With the current cost of treating unsafe abortions in the country pegged at K300 million (about $750 000) a year, Malawi government has admitted that it is time the country reviewed its restrictive laws on abortion.
Malawi’s Secretary for Health Dr Charles Mwansambo said this in Lilongwe on Friday during an orientation meeting for Ministry of Health managers on the magnitude of unsafe abortion in the country.
Mwansambo observed that because of the current restrictive laws, a lot of women turn to unsafe abortion to manage unwanted pregnancies.
He said studies also show that induced abortion is widespread among adolescents aged between 12 and 19 years.
“The legal constraints usually determine the course of action which a woman with an unplanned pregnancy would take. The vast majority of the induced abortions are considered unsafe because they are done by a person who is not properly trained and under unhygienic conditions,” he said.
Mwansambo said in Malawi, women seek induced and clandestine abortions due to unplanned pregnancies, coercion; fear of being forced out of school, shame and poverty.
“As a result [of such clandestine abortions], many women suffer long-term health consequences, including chronic pain, sterility and even death,” he said.
Mwansambo said a re-look at the abortion laws is even more pertinent considering that Malawi is a signatory to a number of protocols such as the Maputo Plan of Action that requires countries to implement safe abortion to the extent that the laws allow as a way of reducing maternal deaths.
According to Mwansambo, the Ministry of Health, through its Reproductive Health Unit, has conducted three studies to establish the magnitude of unsafe abortions in the country.
The three studies looked at the opinions of the general public on unsafe abortion, the magnitude of the problem and the cost assessment which established that it is costing the country about K300 million per year to treat cases of unsafe abortions.
Apart from the heavy cost burden, currently Malawi has a maternal mortality rate of 675 per 100 000 live births.
Mwansambo said about 17 percent of these deaths result from unsafe abortions.